TODAY   |  March 17, 2013

Narcotics officers skip arrests, offer mentoring instead

A community desperate to reclaim their streets has an unconventional program that places low-level drug dealers in a program designed to turn them into law-abiding people, rather than having them arrested. TODAY’s Lester Holt reports.

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>>> there's a never-ending battle going on across america to rid neighborhoods of street-level drug crime . tonight on "dateline," a community desperate to reclaim its streets goes to an unconventional drug program. this unlikely pairing results in remarkable success and some heartbreaking failure.

>> going to go down commissary road.

>> reporter: the detectives are chasing down a tip that durr. ll butler, the leader of his peers in a stand program, is dealing drugs. they watch as officers go through durrell's car on the side of the interstate. inside, they find his fiancee, two children, and $3,000 worth of cocaine.

>> reporter: durell asked to say good-bye to the guys now left in the program. they are stunned to see their leader in handcuffs.

>> i'm going to let durell explain to you what happened and why he is wearing handcuffs.

>> got caught up with a drug trafficking charge. coming home, i don't want to see you all in the predicament i'm in.

>> all the guys were in tears. you know, it was very hard, i think, for everybody to just acknowledge that we lost him.

>> and the community, the officers and these eight guys, were extremely skeptical that this could work, that this would really play out and obviously, they wanted to save all eight guys. they don't. we follow along on this year-long process of the officers who originally didn't want to do this. these are narcotics cops. they put people in jail, and suddenly asked to help along these dealers. and the bond they form is really touching, and they have some incredible success.

>> which is a great reason to tune in. looking forward to seeing more of that tonight.

>> yeah, tonight on "dateline" on nbc. it airs at 7:00, 6:00 central time .